As the dust settles from making amends in Step 9, the new member is now equipped with two valuable new possibilities. The first is simple indeed. With his memory of making amends fresh in his mind, he is determined to avoid further behavior which will precipitate even more amends in his future. However, this result of Step 9, when employed as a foundation for Step 10's continuing commitment to better behavior can slip into being characterized as punishment.
To more carefully describe what is meant by punishment, we can consider the case of the bank robber on the day he is released from prison after serving his sentence for the crime. It is the clear hope of the judicial system that he, remembering the long days he spent behind bars, will be deterred from additional crimes.
In the case of the new member, he should not accept the idea that his behavior will change for the better simply because he wishes to avoid making more amends. There may well be some ideas along this line when he has recently finished his Step 9 work, but expecting the prospect of “punishment” (in the case of the alcoholic, making amends) to permanently revamp his alcoholic behavior is far too similar to the idea of a “dog beating party” where he is the dog.
Threats and consequences didn't ever really result in much behavior modification during his alcoholic drinking, and there is little reason to expect that this condition has changed much in his sobriety. The unpleasant reality of making amends must have some other sort of lasting value beyond its “deterrent” potential. Although the bank robber may change his ways based on the unpleasant prospect of another prison sentence, the alcoholic will continue to lack something he needs for his recovery if he sees his amends making – or Step 10's “admission of guilt” – as a continuing consequence of his bad behavior which will serve as the sole motivator for better living.
So, it must be in one of these new possibilities where the lasting benefit will be found, and that benefit will, of course, have to be a spiritual one. If "lack of power"28 was at the forefront of the alcoholic's frustrating attempts to improve his behavior while his disease remained untreated, then power was to be the answer to successfully recovering from that untreated situation, and that power would become available from spiritual progress, from spiritual sources.
And, if this were to be the case, how, exactly, would that new power be harnessed with respect to his beginning a new and successful life? How could he use it? Truly spiritual matters never lose their luster when they are examined in closer detail! The factual magnitude of AA style spirituality need not be obscured in clouds of vagaries and nuance.
When introducing the ideas of Step 10, the responsible sponsor may well face a reasonable question about precisely its meaning and its emphasis. Although it may appear to be "splitting hairs," the new man's efforts at Step 10 can be greatly influenced by his understanding of its intent and its place in a successful, future sobriety.
The difficulty arises from Step 10's exact wording. In this discussion of Steps 4 and 5, the implications of the words "wrong" and "admitted" were explored. Step 10 reintroduces the same questions.
Step 10: "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it."
The first difficulty arises from the idea that "admitting" we were "wrong" represents a suitable approach to actions supporting a successful life in sobriety. A successful recovery depends greatly on substantial changes in the behavior of the alcoholic, and because the entire AA program is one of spiritual development, we have to conclude that those changes in behavior are the result of spiritual progress.29
One way to view the traits associated with successful sobriety is to simply describe it as a "post-alcoholic" behavior, that is, behavior which no longer harms others (or drives them to fear or avoid us!) or manifests the crazy self-absorption which characterized our untreated disease. That would seem to contradict the idea -- an idea implied by Step 10 -- that the behavior marking successful sobriety could be described as one where alcoholic behavior continued except that it was promptly and continuously followed by "admission" and, presumably, amends.
Most experienced AA's have encountered fellow members who seem to rush through all sorts of personal behavior, afterwards contritely offering a maudlin flurry of amends, in many cases to puzzled recipients who are thoroughly confused by such actions. Is this really what was intended to be the result of work on Step 10?
Further, the re-introduction of the idea of "wrong"30 may be confusing to the new member. Anyone who is certain that a single, working definition of "wrong" can be universally applied may have more "spiritual certainty" than most of us. Step 10's exact focus must come squarely to rest on unsuccessful behavior. That is the behavior which, as recovering alcoholics, we most sincerely want to avoid in both our present and future lives.
There is no mystery with respect to exactly what this means! We all became experts at this kind of destructive, alcoholic behavior -- and its consequences -- during our drinking. Introducing any external measure of "wrong" and "not wrong" smacks of an "outside issue" and can lead to unnecessary confusion. Step 10's idea is supposed to help the new member conduct thoughtful, rational self-observation and make decisions which will serve to further his recovery, not plunge him into more debates of moral questions.
The "admitted" idea runs along the same lines. Far better than being determined to "admit wrongs" is the idea of not acting in these ways in the first place. The people around us are not tolerating us more because we "admit" everything. They are more tolerant because we quit doing such things.
He has already felt the "bite" of making amends while working on Step 9. Is this "bite" to serve as a corrective incentive for the remainder of his sobriety? Does Step 10 imply that, as a recovered alcoholic, he will inevitably continue with the alcoholic behavior and self-absorption screw ups that made so much trouble in his past?
He will not be able to measure either the effectiveness of his "continuing personal inventory" or his sobriety simply in terms of successfully "admitting" a sufficient number of "wrongs." It turns out that common sense will save the day. Inventory, whether conducted during work on Steps 4 and 5 or as it is mentioned in Step 10, deals with the past. It is made necessary because of past actions, implied in Step 10's case, acts of alcoholic behavior committed recently, that is, yesterday or earlier today, for example.
This seems to stray a little "off the mark." In fact, a sober life filled with constant Step 10 work actually suggests validating a sort of "pardon" for continued alcoholic thinking along with accepting the continuing desperate chaos of trying to make enough "admissions." The promise of the AA program of recovery encompasses far more than such a shallow state of development.
Step 10's "continuing personal inventory" had better represent an on-going style of rigorous self-observation which clearly reveals alcoholic thinking before it manifests itself in more alcoholic behavior -- behavior which might require amends or the "admission of wrongs." This will mark successful sobriety and a satisfying life in recovery.
Now, the new man may wish to consider Step 10 in terms of longevity. A "continuing personal inventory" seems like a good idea, but he has had similar good ideas in the past and acting on them has led to very "checkered" outcomes.
After a particularly disastrous episode of alcoholic behavior during his drinking history, the he may have made a commitment to not repeat such behavior again, only to realize a day or a week later that he has, in fact, done more of the same. What makes Step 10 work any longer lasting than these old efforts? What will make Step 10's benefits permanent when these old decisions seemed not to last?31
Even though the answer to this question is an easy one, the sincere sponsor must remain ready to discuss this whole matter in depth -- again! When spiritual progress becomes a reliable, comfortable working part of an AA's sobriety, it will be the powerful engine which promises continuing improvement and ruthless -- and successful -- real-time, self-observation not only effective, dependable and permanent, but quite joyful!
The entirety of this important message can be condensed to what follows:
The old man, suffering from the disease of alcoholism, constantly reacted to his world with what seemed to be good ideas or, at least, desperately necessary ideas. The new man realizes that he didn't really want to do all those things or act in those ways. The new man, thanks to the AA program and his step work, realizes that he has now overcome the dilemma of "lack of power."32
The old ideas about changing his behavior failed because of lack of power. The new idea of Step 10's path to a continuing recovery will succeed precisely because his power source is now based on the spiritual progress he has made. As our book repeats over and over, we know it will work -- and continue to work --because we have seen it in others and lived it for ourselves!
Step 10 tells the new man that it is time to roll up his sleeves and go to work so he, too, will live it in his own life.
28 "Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves." (BB p45)
29 Step 12 speaks directly to this spiritual transformation as it describes the final, on-going result -- and responsibilities -- of step work. "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, ..."
30 The idea of "wrong" is previously introduced in the discussion of inventory. (BB p66)
31 "If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago." (BB p45)
32 "Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves." Obviously. Step 10 has a great deal to do with "Obviously!"